After a judge dismissed their class-action complaint last week, families who sued the Fairfax County School Board and the Virginia Department of Education over services for students with disabilities have requested that the state attorney general look into the two organisations.
In the lawsuit, it was claimed that the school system had for years denied kids with disabilities access to resources that were guaranteed to them by federal law.
Additionally, it was claimed in the case that parents who appealed decisions about their child’s schooling were almost invariably unsuccessful. In February, the Fairfax School Board and the Virginia Department of Education each submitted a move to dismiss the case for lack of proper procedure. A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia made a favourable decision last week.
In an interview, the plaintiffs’ attorneys stated that they intended to appeal the case. To continue the struggle in the interim, they have submitted a civil rights complaint to the attorney general’s office.
Trevor Chaplick, a father and the case’s lead plaintiff, said in a statement: “We believe Virginia, and in particular Fairfax County, have repeatedly violated the rights of the disabled under the Virginia Human Rights Act.” Since students with disabilities are a protected class under the Virginia Human Rights Act, we are requesting that the attorney general of Virginia look into these offences.
Jason S. Miyares’ (R) spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita declined to respond to questions about the allegation.’
Lisa Coons, the superintendent of public instruction for Virginia, stated in an interview that despite the Education Department’s excitement over the lawsuit’s dismissal, the department will keep working to enhance the state’s special education programmes.
“We are really digging into our special education to make sure that we have a focus on supporting our fragile students across Virginia and making sure that we are delivering and supporting educators to have great education for all of our students with special needs,” said Coons.
The school division appreciated the court’s consideration and agreed with the decision to dismiss the case, according to a Fairfax County spokesperson, but Fairfax County Public Schools will continue to be “committed to working with parents to provide students with disabilities an education that meets their needs.”
The services that students with disabilities get have always been a source of concern, but in Virginia, the scrutiny has increased. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal legislation that ensures children with disabilities receive a “free appropriate public education,” has been the subject of numerous investigations by the U.S. Department of Education.
The federal Education Department’s highest compliance rating for the state under the IDEA, “Meets Requirements,” was changed to “Needs Assistance” in late June, marking the first time in more than ten years. Last Monday, Coons informed the Virginia Board of Education that the lower ranking was the result of an unintentional data filing error. The U.S. Education Department will intervene more if a student is in the “Needs Assistance” category for more than a year.
In Virginia, there are more than 178,000 pupils with impairments. Individualised Education Programme (IEP) sessions to address students’ needs and services that extend beyond the regular school year are the subject of complaints to the state Education Department. According to Coons, recent allegations have been more systemic and intricate than in years past. Student discipline issues and IDEA compliance are frequently brought up in complaints.
The superintendent stated that she was unable to comment on particular ongoing investigations but provided an overview of upcoming changes to improve services for students with disabilities, including reorganising the office, tracking parent complaints to determine where efforts should be concentrated, and hiring two analysts to assess state programmes.
“Virginia has 1.3 million kids, and I believe that our special needs students deserve exceptional support and exceptional educational opportunities. In an interview, Coons stated, “I’m prioritising that effort and want to make it a particular area of focus for our office.
Plaintiffs claim in a complaint submitted last week to the attorney general’s office that the Fairfax School Board and the state Education Department discriminated against students with disabilities by managing a “systemically defective educational system” that “ultimately prevents families with disabled children from receiving and vindicating their educational rights.” It demands that Miyares launch an investigation into the county board and state agency.
The complaint makes mention of the claims made in the case that was rejected regarding the state’s due process hearings, the process in place to resolve a dispute between a school district and a parent about what is suitable for a pupil.
The case centres on Chaplick’s kid, who is simply referred to as “D.C.” in the document, and who suffers from a variety of problems, including autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and Tourette’s syndrome. In order to better meet their son’s requirements, Chaplick and his wife Vivian requested that the education system transfer their son from his public school to a private residential programme. Their appeal was turned down. The Chaplicks failed to win their appeal of the judgement at a due process hearing. They requested information under the Freedom of Information Act during a second appeal in 2021 to learn how frequently parents who disagreed with judgements about the care of their impaired children won their cases.
According to the lawsuit, the Chaplicks discovered that only three out of 395 requests in Northern Virginia were successful between 2010 and July 2021. According to the data, only 13 parents in 847 cases, or roughly 1.5 percent, in Virginia successfully contested judgements made by the school district. Comparatively, the lawsuit claimed that roughly 15% of Maryland parents and nearly 35% of California parents—the state with the most pupils with special needs nationwide—won such lawsuits.
According to the lawsuit, the Virginia Department of Education “carefully curated” a group of hearing officers who essentially always agreed with the state. Two-thirds of the 22 state officers who were the subject of the suit’s examination, according to the lawsuit, have never rendered a decision in favour of parents nationwide. In their action, the plaintiffs requested that the court rule that Virginia’s review procedure violated the IDEA and order the state to make the necessary adjustments to bring Virginia into conformity.
According to Chaplick, the choice to continue fighting despite being fired was an effort to bring about structural reforms for parents.
“Money is not the issue here. In order to ensure that the state complies with its federal commitments under the IDEA, reform and modifying the law are important, he said.